To be a Sydney local is to be surrounded by water. With more than 100 beaches within its city limits, it also is home to Sydney Harbour. The world’s largest and deepest natural harbor, it is estimated to hold an astonishing 500 gigalitres of water, which is where the nickname Harbour City originates. On the coast of the Pacific Ocean, Sydney is a huge attraction for surfers, divers, and explorers. With Long Reef on its northern beaches, scientists have had ample opportunities to observe shipwrecks, fossils, and a notably diverse range of sealife. Due to its nutrient-rich water, many kinds of plants and animals both thrive and serve as food for the many seabirds that migrate through the area, from ospreys to penguins. This also makes Sydney Fish Market a huge attraction, it being the third largest in the entire world. Sydney is also treated with many whale sightings, most commonly humpback whales, dolphins, and southern right whales. Yet much rarer species, such as blue whales, sperm whales, orcas, and minke whales, also make appearances. While hundreds of thousands of divers visit for these reasons every year, even more people come for its famous beaches, such as the well-known Bondi. That and many more are legendary spots for surfers of all levels, including the quieter, nearby Bronte and the family-friendly, Manly. Freshwater Beach, however, is known as the birthplace of Australian surfing. These factors are just the beginning of why Sydney underwater photography will always be a relevant market. Its proximity to the ocean deeply influences life there, and its imagery has the potential to be used for industries ranging from tourism to science, as well as both advertising and editorial photography.
At Wonderful Machine, we define underwater photography in the literal sense. It could be shot in oceans, swimming pools, or bathtubs, of people, animals, or objects. Each individual on this list has the ability and equipment to stand out in the category, yet they are all unique in how they approach it. Here are the five best professionals in Sydney underwater photography.
Growing up in coastal south Australia not only gave Jem Crewsswell an early love for diving and surfing but also for photography, leading to a fascination with capturing the underwater world he’d spent his youth exploring. He moved to Sydney in 2008 to pursue a professional career, which has since gone on to yield both success and renown in lifestyle, landscape, and advertising photography. With many fantastic examples of him bringing underwater photography into each of these specialties, Jem is as diverse as he is brilliant in his ability to explore the ocean in everything he does. His ability to bring an eye-catching depth in colors is matched with clarity honed by years of experience in both diving and shooting. This is easily seen in the flawless quality of his work, from images of sealife seldom encountered by humans to the interaction of light and shadow on swimmers in shallow waters. He additionally is a respected fine artist, utilizing both people and animals as his subjects. In 2020 he released his first book, Giants, a beautifully compiled exploration of humpback whales in strikingly intimate black & white imagery. Also a director, Jem has an amazing list of projects in advertising, documentary, and public service. His documentary short on diving with the area’s endangered sea lions, Eyre & Sea, was released in 2021 to inclusion in many festivals. Bringing both an awareness and a celebration of so many facets of the ocean and life within it, Jem Cresswell is in a class of his own not only in Sydney underwater photography, but worldwide.
With an excitingly diverse portfolio of impactful portrait, landscape, and documentary imagery, it’s amazing that Adam Taylor can additionally be so accomplished in underwater photography. After graduating from the National Art School in Sydney, Adam traveled all over the world, taking assignments and artfully capturing the dynamic subject matter his work is known for. Becoming a sought-after advertising photographer, many of his high-profile projects are as varied as one may expect by this point, with him also working with conceptual imagery and directing short films. Yet his passion for the natural world is incredibly apparent in his exceptional underwater work.
I am intrigued by how people relate to each other and how we connect to this beautiful planet. My intention is to evoke a response, like music or the cinema, to be able to touch others with photography and video would be incredible.
Bright blues, greens, and blended aquas are a common element in many of his images, giving a vibrancy to every scene he captures. At times bringing in elements of fine art, Adam has many works documenting surfing and diving, as well as occasional visits from nearby sealife. This illustrates the exciting potential of what can be encountered as a Sydney underwater photographer as well as Adam’s own creativity in exploring it. Proving his own expertise in perfecting his signature way of documenting this world, among many others, Adam’s work is internationally lauded. He has been awarded gold & silver at Cannes, Advertising Photographer of the Year at the International Photography Awards, multiple Prix De la Photography in Paris, and Photographer of the Year in the Australian Hotshop Awards.
The third one on this list to work as both a photographer and director, Chris Searl is equally notable in his masterful and unique style. With over 15 years of experience, Chris has made a name for himself in exploring scenes of reality at its most authentic. His work in portraiture, lifestyle, and youth culture translates to both edgier and more down-to-earth images that work perfectly in many current approaches to advertising. Adding to his ability to capture people at their most unguarded, Chris is a highly skillful landscape and aerial photographer. Mixing these aptitudes into his lifestyle-oriented work, he creates a theme of youthful exploration of the natural world that runs consistently through it. The same goes for his creative underwater photography. Maintaining the human experience as his primary focus, Chris uniquely captures moments beneath the ocean’s surface just as candidly as above. Photos exploring both of these vantage points simultaneously are common in his portfolio, showing his human subjects beneath the water while still providing some view of the area above. Not only does this give the exciting sense of people existing in two worlds at once, but it also artistically explores the threshold of the water’s surface itself. For the last decade, Chris has also helming Monster Children Magazine, published both in Australia and the US, specializing in youth culture, surfing, skating, and art.
With a knack for design across a vast array of specialties, Jason Ierace is an advertising photographer adept in bringing out the beauty of nearly any subject. Spending some of his professional years as an art director, Jason is both an expert in composition as well as a photographer of immense technical skill. His abilities to cross over into fine art have also seen his work exhibited worldwide. With a diverse portfolio including many strong images in lifestyle, portraiture, and fashion, he additionally brings in conceptual, aerial, and landscape photography to actualize any vision a client could imagine. Stunning travel and tourism campaigns sit next to equally captivating fine art studies on movement. To add to his seemingly limitless book of spells is underwater photography. Focusing on human subjects, Jason typically utilizes his underwater talents for lifestyle photography. This can be with an emphasis on surfing, recreational swimming, and even fashion-oriented images of underwater romance. What they have in common is his knack for capturing movement within the water, allowing the bubbles to surround his subjects and create a near-mystical feeling in his images. Often he is working close to the surface or in pools, as the colors are always bright in vibrant tones of blue and green. A maestro at all he touches, Jason is a perfect example of the fun one can have with underwater photography.
A major figure in advertising and portrait photography in Australia, Jonathan May is also a director making way into documentary and commercial films. Often going for candid moments that explore humanity, Jonathan’s work is, as his double-threat status implies, also very cinematic. Veering into conceptual photography in his commercial imagery, his personal work is very documentary-oriented and reveals a passion for raising awareness. Jonathan’s use of color is a huge part of his brand and appeal, often using dreamy blues for his photography taking place at dusk and night. This makes his underwater photography a natural fit for his evocative approach. As rays of light for the surface pierce through the water, his subjects swim into the wonder as if entering a deepsea cathedral. Often utilizing these skills for his documentary work, he has gone on trips to capture the work of divers and subsistence hunters. Not only does this make for a rare glimpse into a lifestyle few are privy to, but also shows Jonathan’s ability to allow his subject the space they need while getting that perfect image. Clearly fascinated with the relationship between light and darkness, Jonathan’s work as a Sydney underwater photographer stands out as moody, mysterious, and incredibly exciting.
As anyone can tell from each of the unique and impressive creatives above, Sydney Underwater photography is as multifaceted as the city’s own relationship to the ocean. It can be used to create imagery in advertising, tourism, fine art, editorials, and so much more. And much like the ocean itself, there is so much unexplored territory in this art form. And yet, where better than Sydney to have such a diverse group to light the way?